Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Still watching the election

On Friday, I spent the day watching the UK election. And now, on Tuesday, I'm watching it again. In New Zealand, coalition negotiations are not exciting - its usually pretty obvious who the partners will be, and the debate is usually over the price. But the UK has a genuine choice before it. Both a Lib-Tory and a Lib-Lab coalition are possible. Both are legitimate, by Westminster standards (a majority of the seats in the House) and ours (a majority of votes cast). Which will Nick choose?

Yesterday, it was looking like it was a done deal. Nick Clegg had kept his promise to negotiate first with the largest party, the Tories, and those negotiations looked to be fruitful. Both sides were positive that a deal would be reached, and they were already talking about Cabinet posts. And then Clegg talked to his caucus, who rejected the Conservatives' offer and demanded more, specifically on electoral reform. The Conservatives countered with an offer of a referendum on preferential voting- the "electoral reform" you have when you don't really want electoral reform - but that wasn't enough. The Tories can't go any further on the issue, so the LibDems are now exploring their options with Labour, who are in many ways their more natural partner.

Those negotiations have already borne fruit: Gordon Brown's head on a spike (he even placed it there himself, or at least has promised to do so later in the year). But electoral reform is as much of an anathema to some Labour MPs as it is to the Tories; the only reason they appeared interested pre-election was as a shabby tactical move to wedge the Conservatives. As for the merits, they regard power-sharing and consensus politics with the same horror that the NZLP did in 1992. But this is something the LibDems should press hard on. Their members want it, and the wide public wants it as well; rather than being some academic obsession, it is the fourth most important issue, ranking ahead of unemployment, taxation, and even political corruption and expenses abuse. If the LibDems did a deal to usher in STV or the weird "Alternative Vote Plus" (a version of MMP with preferential voting which is deliberately broken to make it non-proportional by not having enough list seats. ils sont fous ces Anglais!), then the public should thank them for it. And if they don't, and they take an enormous hit in their popularity, well, they'll still be better off, both in the short-term and the long-term.

Meanwhile, it was rather amusing watching UK talking heads boggling over coalition arrangements, and complaining bitterly thatit has been four whole days since the election and they "still" don't have a (new) government. Down here, we've had up to eight weeks, during which time the old government is in a caretaker role and unable to do anything. People seem to quite like that.